Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sensabaugh Tunnel



This infographic has made the rounds on social media sites more than a few times. Every few months someone emails it to me, or tags me in a Facebook post with the picture. The now infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel is located just outside Kingsport, TN, a couple hours drive from here. Since I had a meeting about 30 miles away, I decided to do a daytime drive-by to scout out the location and to snap some photos and maybe try out some of the legends associated with it.

I had spent several hours researching the Sensabaugh Tunnel.  One YouTube video listed it as #1 of the "Top 5 Most Haunted Tunnels in the World." It's history is confusing, to say the least. To start with, there is contention as to which is the right haunted tunnel. According to some, there is a smaller tunnel, not wide enough for a car to drive through, that is the real haunted Sensabaugh Tunnel. Legend has it that three of the workers were killed during the smaller tunnel's construction, and their spirits are responsible for the haunting (It is unclear if the construction workers' bodies were recovered and properly buried, or if they became a permanent part of it, being buried inside as is alleged to have happened in another haunted tunnel, near Hazard, KY). I also read of a third tunnel in the vicinity sometimes confused with the haunted one. However, most seem to agree that the tunnel I went to is the right haunted Sensabaugh Tunnel. One, or more, of the other tunnels may well be haunted as well, but one of the main components of the legend involves driving through the tunnel, and since this is the only tunnel big enough to do so, I was sure I had found the right place.


My first visit to Sensabaugh Tunnel

As I turned off the interstate and followed my directions through rolling hills populated with farmhouses, I started to get excited. I'd seen this infographic so many times, and it had been a while since I'd had a spooky adventure. I didn't hope to capture much evidence, as it was just after noon and broad daylight, but the best photographic evidence of the paranormal is often captured in the daytime. Plus, the whole scouting out the situation and all. I had read on a forum about people being chased away, so I thought seeing things in the light of day first would be best before possibly returning later, perhaps attempting to speak with locals and investigating after dark.

I followed the directions and turned onto Big Elm Road. Houses were fewer and further between now. The Holston River that had been running alongside the road turned to a trickling creek. I couldn't help but notice the abundance of No Trespassing signs posted along this road. Before I had much time to think about it, I came around a bend, and there it was. The infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel. The tunnel is actually the main road that continues on to several more homes. Water, at least an inch or two deep, continuously runs through the tunnel, and empties out to the creek beside the road. Absolutely covered in graffiti, it makes for an intimidating sight in the middle of the day. I could only imagine seeing this for the first time in the dark of night, illuminated in headlights. I pulled my car into a wide spot off to the side of the road and got out. No sooner had I turned my camera on, than an SUV started through the tunnel from the other side. Once they reached the side I was on I threw up my hand in a friendly wave, and they did the same in return. Maybe the stories about being chased away by screaming old men were just stories after all...

Before we go any further, let me tell you why I wanted to go to this little tunnel. Besides the infographic being passed around social media sporadically, I had looked into it, and there is some interesting history associated with it. Like any good urban myth, the details get obscured and create confusion. As a researcher all you can do is see which versions come up the most often and weigh them against the ones that are the most logical. 


It seems that there are actually three different tunnels in the area. The infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel, the Click Tunnel, and another. Some people claim the tunnel in the infographic, the one I visited, is actually the Click Tunnel, but wherever the Click Tunnel is located, it is supposedly haunted, too, it just doesn't have the detailed history to go along with it. It was possibly the Click Tunnel's construction that claimed the lives of seven workers after an accidental explosion.



The tunnel I visited, which we will call Sensabaugh Tunnel for simplicity's sake, has served as a rite of passage for teenagers in the area for decades. They would dare one another to drive into the tunnel, turn off their engine and lights, and roll their windows down. Many were terrified when they claimed to hear a baby crying in the quiet of the tunnel. The spirit was apt to mess with your car, causing it not to start back when you tried to. If you had covered your car with baby powder, when you came out of the tunnel, there would be tiny hand prints visible all over the car. We've traced back the origins of many aspects of the hauting...

In the 1920s, the hill was blasted apart to make the tunnel, to serve as a road and as a support for the railroad that would run above it. The land belonged to the Sensabaugh family, who lived in a farmhouse just on the other side of the tunnel, that is still there today. According to records, the tunnel is 12 feet high and a little over 180 feet long. Soon teenagers would use the wide spot just before the tunnel (the place where I parked, come to think of it) to do what teenagers do. It didn't take long for stories to begin circulating locally about hearing crying and screaming noises coming from the tunnel.



Here's where the variations start. Once the tales began, some people started to tell of a hobo who had kidnapped a baby after a robbery gone wrong at the Sensabaugh house, and killing it in the tunnel. In other versions, the hobo, running with the baby, with Ed Sensabaugh hot on his heels, tossed the baby into the pool of water on the other side of the tunnel, sometimes called “Crybaby Pool,” in hopes that Ed would stop for the baby allowing him to flee. Unfortunately, if this version is to be believed, the baby still drowned.

Another version also involves Ed Sensabaugh, who lived in the white house on the other side of the tunnel, lost it one night, going crazy and killing his entire family and then going to the tunnel to kill himself. It has been speculated that the tunnel is one of those strange areas, infected with negative energy that effects those around it. The Amityville House would be a perfect example, had Ed Warren not exploited it beyond recognition. 

Coming back through the other end of the tunnel

There is another part of the Sensabaugh Tunnel history about a woman who was driving in a thunderstorm one night when her car broke down inside the tunnel. She got out and started walking to the Sensabaugh home to use the phone. Her car was found later and she never made it to use the phone. She was never seen again. It's hypothesized she was murdered by either a lunatic or some random person-turned-killer or that she just vanished into the tunnel itself. I guess this story is where the legend of turning your car off in the tunnel comes from. There are stories where people reported their cars not starting back and hearing shrieking laughter. A tall dark figure with red eyes has also been seen inside the tunnel.


Hopefully on the next trip I can try out this next part of the legend. It has been said that no one can walk all the way through the tunnel at midnight, from back to front, without going insane or being attacked. I imagine with all the stories of the Sensabaugh family running through your head, it would be quite unnerving to walk the potential route the hobo would have taken, at exactly midnight.



Sometimes when I start researching something, I come to a point that I wish I had quit just a little earlier. So is the case with Sensabaugh Tunnel, and the next bit of info I found. A Sensabaugh family decendent went on record with the Kingsport Times stating that Ed would get upset when the teenagers partying in the tunnel would wake his kids up, and having the uncanny ability to mimic animals and make different noises, would sneak out close to the tunnel and imitate a baby's cry and women screaming. The tunnel carried the sounds and amplified them. I imagine the party ended very quickly and the kids made haste to get out of there.



I didn't get to conduct a proper EVP session, and it would have been hard to do so anyway, with all the water running through the area. I did take a lot of photos, but don't seem to have captured anything. I didn't think to take any baby powder with me (will be on the list for the next trip) but I did try out turning my car off inside the tunnel. The video is below, it started back. However, just after I had snapped the first couple photos I took, something caught my ear. I smiled, shaking my head, but couldn't help but wonder, just a little, if it was just my mind/ears playing tricks on me, or if I had just heard the sound of a baby crying.



In the opinion of the Lost Creek staff, Ed Sensabaugh is most likely the only 'haint' to ever haunt the tunnel, and not knowing this nor unable to explain what they heard, the kids' imaginations evolved the stories into what has been passed down over the years and now continuing to make its way around the internet. If nothing else, it's a little para-tourism for the area. 

video

We may be experiencing some problems with the video. We're working on that. It can also be viewed on my Facebook wall until we get this fixed.

Below are a few more photos I took at the tunnel.

 
Facing Sensabaugh Tunnel


Driving through


The old Sensabaugh home, just on the other side of the tunnel

Small cemetery across the hill. I wonder if it's a family graveyard?




The other side of the tunnel

Driving back through, just before turning the engine off
Sensabaugh Tunnel

The Lost Creek Medicine Show staff are taking a field trip to Point Pleasant, WV, this weekend to spend some time researching the Mothman legend.  Stay tuned for that adventure!


To read more on Sensabaugh Tunnel, check out these sites:
and Listverse's Top 10 Haunted Tunnels if you still want more





While you're waiting for more Medicine Show blogs, check out what we're planning with or other project, Lost Creek Art Company. You just might dig it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Leslie County Quintuple Murder Mystery


In the early morning hours of February 6, 2004 a school bus driver beginning his route noticed a trailer on fire.  He notified the authorities but the fire quickly consumed the trailer. After firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames they made a gruesome discovery. Inside were the remains of five people; 25 year-old Chris Sturgill and his wife Amanda, 21, along with their three children Michael, 4, Robert, 3, and Jordan, 18 months.

Chris and Amanda had been shot with a bow and arrows in their Leslie County, KY home. The children had died of smoke inhalation.  The bodies of Chris and Amanda were found in bed, the fire’s ignition point having been directly on top of Amanda.
 
The Sturgill Family



The man accused and convicted of murder has been granted a retrial, set to begin next month.  We've dug into this case as local interest has risen. What we found raises a few questions.  There is limited information regarding the case to be found online and others' attempts to obtain transcripts of the original trial have failed to produce them.  While frustrating to the curious, what information we were able to obtain makes the case read just like a true crime mystery, complete with a psychic witness.

Disclaimer - The story presented is a based on the testimony of witnesses at the trial and others.  As there is no physical evidence to go on, it is presented relying on witness accounts.  We're not responsible for any slandering others may have done in the past, we're presenting a version that exists in the public consciousness based on the most verifiable information available.

The day before, Chris had been drinking with his friend, Clayton Jackson. The two often fished and hunted together.  Jackson sometimes rode with Sturgill in his coal-hauling truck, and Sturgill had been trying to teach him to drive it [1].  At some point they went to a local bootlegger’s for more alcohol.  Heavy rain all day had caused creeks to rise, so Clayton said Chris had dropped him off that night and that he waded across the creek to his house where he took the phone off the hook and passed out until after 10 a.m. the next morning when a phone call made him aware of the Sturgills' deaths. 

Police began looking for Chris' 1989 Mack coal truck. Neighbors told authorities they heard someone leaving in it, the inexperienced driver grinding the gears and driving slowly sometime before dawn.  Walter Noland, a security guard who had just finished his overnight shift at nearby Red Bird Mission saw the truck, driving an estimated 15 m.p.h., with a small red car following it.  Others mentioned the red car following, some saying it was driving without its headlights on.  Several witnesses reported seeing three or four men driving Chris' truck sometime after 11 p.m. the night before.  Clayton Jackson was not one of them. 

Area of Leslie County, KY where the Sturgills and Clayton Jackson lived


Police received multiple phone calls from Shirley Mae Barrett that morning. She told them her boyfriend, Clayton Jackson, had spent the night at the Sturgill home the night before and she had been unable to reach him all night. She also called Clayton's mother, and others in the Roark community looking for Clayton.

At the scene of the fire Shirley Mae Barrett approached John Griffith, who had been assigned his first case as a State Police detective. She asked how many bodies had been found inside and he told her there had been five. She then asked, “Don’t you mean six?" Griffith assured her there had been five.

Later that day Chris’ coal truck was found on an old strip mine site four miles away with the interior burned out.  The only clue they found was a single footprint leading away from the truck. 

Barrett’s phone calls pointed Det. Griffith to Clayton Jackson. When police arrived at Jackson’s home he consented to being interviewed and voluntarily gave hair and DNA samples.  Over the next three days he was questioned a total of four times. Three days after the fire, police served Jackson with a search warrant and found marijuana, pipes, seeds, and other paraphernalia in his home.  They also recovered a sawed-off shotgun, said to have been given to him by a relative and forgotten about. The barrel was an inch under the legal limit and had no serial numbers.  Police charged him with possession of the gun and arrested him.   

Clayton Jackson's mugshot

Clayton Jackson, who had no prior criminal record, signed a plea deal and was sentenced to 35 months, which he served in Beckley, West Virginia.  His cellmate there, Kinsey McCloud, was serving a 48 month sentence for a firearms charge.  Looking to shave some time off his sentence, McCloud helped Jackson write a letter which he forwarded to investigators. In the letter Jackson changed his story and confessed to having been in the Sturgill’s home on the night of the murders.  He named at least two local men, Porter Morgan and Dustin Slusher, as the killers.  According to Jackson, they had been involved in a meth deal gone bad with Chris Sturgill.  Jackson claimed to have been in the bathroom when it happened, then fled out the back door. He concluded the letter by saying, "I don't want to lose any more than I already have. If I can't find any help, (Kentucky State Police) are going to cause me to lose my life."
[2]

Clayton Jackson served his time and was released.  He started to go on with his life.  Then nearly four years later the Leslie County Grand Jury indicted Jackson, charging him with the murders, arson, and theft of the truck.

Rumors began spreading like wildfire throughout the small community of Roark.  In the weeks leading up to the trial a forum on the Topix.com web site, where users can post anonymously, was filled w/ comments both defending his innocence and expressing hopes that he burn in hell after receiving the death penalty.  A few users were unsure of Jackson’s guilt but were sure of the involvement of more than one perpetrator.  Versions of the story that had been through the local rumor mill were posted by anonymous users.  Facts and rumors blurred together in a reflection of what was happening offline as well.  As a result the trial was moved to nearby Clay County after the court was unable to seat an impartial jury. 

Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Gregory based his case against Clayton Jackson on the testimony of Jackson's ex-girlfriend, the men accused in the letter, and 2 men who were inmates with Jackson while he was imprisoned for the gun charge.  During questioning the men whom Jackson named in the letter testified that they had been partying the night before, drinking and doing cocaine.  Gregory said they had been cleared during the investigation. The gruesome crime scene photos were shown.   Gregory pointed out that Jackson had bought a pair of gloves on the day before the murders and suggested Jackson had wanted to have an affair with Amanda Sturgill and became angry when she turned down his advances as a possible motive.

Rerferring back to the muddy footprint found near the burned-out coal truck, Gregory pointed out that, although 4 miles away, it happened to point in the direction of Clayton Jackson's home. "As the crow flies, that's not a long way to his house," Gregory said. Detective Griffith testified that FBI investigators searched for fingerprints and footprints at the scene and found nothing that implicated Jackson
[3]. Another informant, Troy Hanley, contradicted the story in Jackson’s letter, testifying that Jackson had told him, “we set the place on fire.” No physical evidence was presented.

Jackson entering the courtroom

In Jackson’s defense, public defender Barbara Carnes argued that police had zeroed in on Jackson from the beginning and didn’t follow up on other leads.  She cited the lack of physical evidence, pointing out that everything was circumstantial.  Clayton had told detectives he bought the gloves to pick up aluminum cans for money in the cold weather.  Carnes also stated that flooding the night of the murders made it impossible for Jackson to have ditched the coal truck and walked home. She pointed out that Shirley Mae Barrett, Jackson’s ex-girlfriend, was said to have owned a car similar to the one following the coal truck, but Barrett denied it. Is it possible the red car was driven by someone connected to the crime, perhaps following the coal truck to give its driver a ride back? Sure, just as possible as it being a random driver who found themself stuck behind the slow moving truck with nowhere to pass it.

Witnesses for the defense included Red Bird resident Naomi Brock.  During cross-examination Brock admitted to having “psychic powers,” and being able to tell what has happened or what will happen to people she spends enough time with. Her psychic abilities, however, weren’t in question during her testimony, which related to what she saw with her own eyes.  She told of four men driving Chris Sturgill’s pickup truck to her home and parking at the end of her driveway around 10 p.m. the night before the bodies were discovered.  She watched them from her kitchen window.  She identified some of them as the same men Jackson named in the letter he wrote from prison.  They left about 11 p.m. and were seen after that by another neighbor who also testified at the trial

During her closing argument Carnes drove home the lack of evidence and the defense’s reliance upon questionable witnesses.

While trying to reach a decision the jury asked to review the video testimony of Porter Morgan, Dustin Slusher, Slusher’s brother Shawn, and Brian Saylor, all of whom’s names had been part of the local rumors.  They also asked to review testimony from Shirley Mae Bennett again.  Unable to reach a decision the first day, jurors were sequestered for the night and continued deliberations the next day.  That evening they returned to the courtroom, in agreement that Clayton Jackson was guilty of arson and the murders of the Sturgill children; Michael, Robert, and Jordan. He was not found guilty of the theft of the coal truck or the murders of Chris and Amanda, on which they were split 10-2.

Because of the multiple murders Jackson was eligible for the death penalty under Kentucky law.  Days after the verdict the jury elected to give him a life sentence without the possibility of parole for each of the murder convictions, as well as the maximum 50 year sentence for the arson charge. 

Supporters of Jackson immediately proclaimed his innocence on the Topix forum, citing the lack of evidence, lack of a motive and expressing their hopes of an appeal. Others expressed joy in the conviction and their hopes of eternal suffering for the man found guilty.  More anonymous users posted thoughts that if Jackson was guilty, he hadn’t been alone and hoped the others involved would be brought to justice..  The same names, and a couple new ones, were thrown around again.   

The Kentucky Supreme Court reviewed an appeal filed on Jackson’s behalf, which argued that a juror should have been dismissed because of ties to one of the victims.  The appeal, which can be read in its’ entirety here, cites a conversation the juror in question had with the judge. He admitted that Amanda Sturgill’s brother had lived with his family years ago and the two had been close friends.  The judge discussed the conversation the juror had with him with both attorneys.  When the judge asked the juror if the old relationship would effect his ability to make an impartial decision, he replied, “I doubt it,” going on to say that, “It would be better to let somebody else serve it
[4].”  However, it was decided the juror would remain.

Based on the decision to allow the juror to remain, the Kentucky Supreme Court granted a retrial, which is scheduled to begin in August.  I'd love to be able to go and look into this story with the time and attention to detail it deserves. If any of our readers out there wished to finance the project, I'm ready to go!  We will continue to bring you updates to this case as new information unfolds.





To donate and help finance the book, click HERE!!!!








[1] http://lists.washlaw.edu/pipermail/deathpenalty/2007-November/007265.html

[2] http://www.kentucky.com/2011/04/06/1697582/deliberations-begin-in-clayton.html

[3]http://www.kentucky.com/2011/03/26/1684413/prosecutor-shows-jury-two-bows.html

[4] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ky-supreme-court/1626355.html 

Also of interest:
Topix forum relating to the case




Friday, July 10, 2015

The Man From Taured


It's been a while since we've given you a new post. Several different projects and the possibility of a major opportunity in the near future has kept us extremely busy and sadly caused the Medicine Show to be neglected. The good news is, we've got several blog notions lined up for the very near future. 

The strange tale we bring you today is a modern mystery.  In recent years it has gained momentum on the internet. We've traced its origins as far as the trail goes and present it to you now.

It takes place in June, 1954. It's a hot, humid day at Toyko's Haneda Airport.  An incoming European flight lands and the passengers file through the line at Customs. Blending in with the crowd is a tall caucasian man, bearded and dressed professionally. When he presents his passport, the mystery begins.  While it appears to be genuine, with many previous stamps from several countries, including Japan, the issuing country is listed as Taured.  None of the customs agents had heard of this country. The man was taken to an interrogation room, where he was questioned over the next eight hours.  

While he said French was his primary language, he spoke fluent Japanese, as well as other languages.  He told officials that he was in Japan on a business trip, the third he had taken that year.  Stamps in his passport backed up his story, showing trips to Japan and countries all over the world during the past five years.  He provided airport authorities with a driver's license, issued by the government of Taured, currency from several European countries in a well-made over-sized wallet, bank statements, and business documents he was traveling with.  He grew more and more frustrated as officials repeatedly told him that Taured didn't exist.  He insisted that the country was located near the borders of France and Spain and had existed for nearly 1,000 years.  Customs agents presented him with a map and asked him to point out Taured.  Without hesitation he pointed to the Principality of Andorra, but insisted he had never heard of a country with that name.  

The tiny country of Andorra



Having never been in a situation like this before, airport officials had the man claiming to be from Taured escorted to a nearby hotel.  He had a small dinner in the hotel kitchen and was given a room for the night.  Two customs agents stood guard outside his door.  Back at Customs, officials contacted the company he said he had meetings with.  They had never heard of him, nor the company he worked for.  The hotel he told them he had reservations at had no record of him.  The checkbook he was carrying looked legit enough, but when they tried to contact the bank that had issued it, they discovered it did not exist.  

The men who stood guard outside the man from Taured's hotel room heard no noise coming from inside the room once the man entered that night. No one came or left through the door.  The room had a single small window overlooking the busy street several floors below, with no balcony or even a ledge outside it.  When they knocked and received no answer the following morning, the Customs agents entered the room to find it empty.  The man from Taured, and any trace of him, had vanished in the night.  Making the story even stranger, his passport, driver's license, and all other personal effects that had been kept in the airport security office, had vanished as well.

Had this man managed to slip through some doorway from a parallel dimension, where his world was similar to ours but different in at least one aspect, that of Taured/Andorra? Perhaps he was a career criminal on the run who somehow outfoxed Japanese Customs that night.  Or could he have been a brainwashed manchurian candidate made to believe he was from a country that didn't exist? This was less than a decade after the end of World War II and the CIA was just beginning to experiment with mind control and psy-ops like MK-Ultra.  Others have theorized that the man wasn't a man at all, but rather a demon in disguise, or an extraterrestrial on a reconnaissance mission.  Or could the whole thing be a hoax or an urban legend?

While there is no shortage of blogs and articles on the man from Taured to be found from a quick Google search, the majority of them are carbon copies, often not even bothering to change the wording of the article they copy and pasted from. To date no newspaper articles related to the story have been found, but that would make sense if the story was true.  In the uneasy climate following World War II, a Japanese journalist attempting to report on a mystery man with a passport from a country that didn't exist probably wouldn't get very far.  Nowhere is any mention of the man's name, the exact airline, or any other identifying clues. Many of the articles online cite two books as their main sources of the information: The Directory of Possibilities by Colin Wilson and John Grant (1981, p.86) (ISBN: 0-552-119946) and"Out Of Thin Air: People Who Appear From Nowhere" by Paul Begg. 

In "The Directory of Possibilities" there is in fact only one sentence referring to the Taured man.  Following a summary of two other strange cases of people who appeared to come from places that didn't exist (which we plan to cover very soon), the book mentions, "And in 1954 a passport check in Japan is alledged to have produced a man with papers issued by the nation of Taured."  That's it. So where did the rest of the story originate? Others looking into the Taured mystery have searched in vain for the other book referenced, "Out Of Thin Air: People Who Appear From Nowhere," only to find that, like Taured itself, it doesn't seem to exist.  They were, however, able to locate another book by Paul Begg, "Into Thin Air: People Who Disappear" [David & Charles, 1979].  Was "Out Of Thin Air" a companion book, perhaps written but never published? If so, why would others cite it when writing about the man from Taured?

The best background information we found came from an unusual source, Frankenstein Sound Labs, who in 2004 released the album "Malice in Sunderland," that included the single "The Man From Taured."  On their website, the mind behind Frankenstein Sound Labs tells of coming across the sentence referring to the man in the "Directory of Possibilities" and the name stuck with him. When the time came to put a title to his new song, The Man From Taured sounded good to him.  When his song suddenly began attracting a lot of plays online, he found his way to the AboveTopSecret.com website, where the story of the man from Taured was being discussed in a forum. He explained how he came across the story in the book and hadn't, as some had claimed, been the original source himself. He added that when he released the album in 2004 he did a Google search for 'Taured,' which returned nothing. It seems that the mysterious story gained momentum online sometime after that.

After days spent researching the story of the man from Taured, we have came away with many more questions than we began with, and few answers. Is this a tech-age urban legend that spread on internet forums in recent years? An elaborate hoax with no factual basis? If the events actually happened, what became of the mysterious man? Did he find a doorway back to his own dimension, in which Andorra never existed? Could there be anyone left who might remember a strange man at the Tokyo airport in 1954? If so, it may be that only they hold the answers to this perplexing mystery.


For more info:
Frankenstein Sound Labs web page referring to Taured
Skeptiko - Man Out of Time - "Hi, I'm from Taured"
Ghost Theory - Mysterious Arrival: The Man From Taured
Strange Mysteries Youtube channel - The Taured Man: Interdimensional Traveler?







Monday, November 10, 2014

Pikeville's Octavia Hatcher Urban Legend




First of all let me apologize to our readers for not posting in so long. I have had so many irons in the fire, working on different projects, that I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write anything up.  I’ve been doing a lot of work outisde, and since it would seem that winter is now upon us I am hoping that the bitter cold will allow me more time inside to give the Medicine Show some attention.  My favorite side project was when I was invited to the local middle school to tell local ghost stories to the youngins on Halloween.  The students and faculty seemed to really enjoy it, but I’m quite sure I had more fun than any of them.  Speaking to them DID motivate me to pay more attention to a project I had put on the back burner for a while, putting together a book of local haint tales.  I have been super busy this month collecting more spooky stories for the book and am very excited to be working on it again.  So without further adieu, let’s get to one of those local legends...


I went to an alumni event at Pikeville College back in the spring.  I arrived on campus early, parked behind Allara Library, and walked to the old cemetery adjacent to the parking area to the familiar plot surrounded by a fence.  Inside a life size effigy of Octavia Hatcher stands over her grave.  Near the foot of the statue is another smaller one of a baby.  I took a few pictures through the fence and paid my respects to Octavia. 

Walking back toward campus I saw two college girls, looking at different headstones.  One cement ground-level vault, I guess you would call it, had cracked years ago, and the girls stopped in front of it.  I could see them talking excitedly as I walked in their direction. 

When I got to where they were, they sheepishly looked at me and said hi.  I said hello, and asked if they were waiting on something to come up through the cracks, jokingly.  One of the girls said, “Is it true that this place is haunted?” 

“Don’t mind her,” the other girl said.  “She’s a little crazy.”

I smiled.  “Over there at that statue is Octavia Hatcher’s grave.  That’s where you want to go,” I told them. 

“Does the statue really turn around on Halloween?” The same girl asked.

“Well, that’s up for debate,” I said, and told them some of the story behind the legend.
 
I heard the legend of Octavia Hatcher in the first month that I lived on campus, what seems like many moons ago.  There are different versions of the tale, but a little history fact checking leads to at least some known truths.  I worked on the college newspaper, and for the edition that came out the week of Halloween a friend and I wrote up Octavia’s sad tale. 


James Hatcher was one of Pikeville’s most successful businessmen. He had ventures in several different areas including logging, coal mining, construction, and politics.  In 1931 he opened the Hatcher Hotel, which stood where the East Kentucky Expo Center stands today.  It was hailed as fireproof, and known for having Hatcher’s favorite quotes painted on the walls.  The hotel featured a small museum which included a functioning iron lung, medicine’s newest marvel at the time.  Also on display was a custom-built coffin Hatcher commissioned for himself long before his death.  It featured a mechanism that allowed the coffin to be opened from the inside.  While having your coffin made years before death, much less with such features, may seem odd, James Hatcher had good reason to be wary. 


Hotel Hatcher

In 1889, at the age of 30, Hatcher married Octavia Smith, who’s family was among Pikeville’s first settlers.  Two years later they had a son, Jacob, named after Octavia’s father.  Sadly, as was so common before modern medical practices were available, little Jacob only lived a few days, and died.  Following the infant’s death, Octavia fell into a deep depression and became very sickly, taking to bed. Her tragic life came to an end just a few months later, when she fell into a coma and was then pronounced dead on May 2, 1891.  Pikeville was experiencing an unusually warm spring, so James Hatcher arranged for a quick burial, skipping the embalming process.  Octavia was buried in a family plot at the Pikeville Cemetery.


Shortly after Octavia’s burial, others in the Pikeville area began falling into similar coma-like states, to awaken after a few days and recover fully.  Research led doctors to find that the sleeping sickness was caused by the bite of a certain fly.  When word reached James Hatcher that people were waking up from their death-like states, he went into a panic and arranged for an emergency exhumation order.  

Standing on the hill that looks out over the city of Pikeville, James watched in horror as the coffin was opened.  Inside, Octavia was now certainly dead, but it was obvious that she hadn’t been that way when she was buried.  The coffin had not been airtight, and allowed Octavia what has been estimated to have been days more of life, buried alive.  The lining of the coffin was shredded.  Her fingertips were bloody and her face was scratched and frozen in an expression of terror.  Unable to escape Octavia eventually died, already having been laid to rest.  

Octavia was reburied, but James was so heartbroken he was never the same.  He commissioned a life-size statue of Octavia, holding baby Jacob in her arms, which was placed on top of her grave.  The statue was placed so that it looked down upon the city of Pikeville, and James could look up at it from the hotel.  James Hatcher lived until 1939 when he passed away at the Hotel Hatcher.

Over the years Octavia’s tragic story has evolved into an urban legend.  The tale has been told with several variations.  One version tells of Octavia dying while she was still pregnant and mourners at her burial hearing a baby crying from inside the coffin.  They were astonished when it was opened and they discovered the baby had been born from a dead woman, only to die itself days later.  


As the legend spread teenagers and college students would visit the cemetary, often drinking and daring one another to go near the grave.  Vandals eventually broke the arm holding the baby off the statue.  The small stone infant now lies at the feet of the larger effigy, which has now been placed atop a marble base.  A fence with a locked gate now stands around the site to further deter would-be vandals.  A small plaque was also placed there, describing the details of Octavia’s death. 

Interviews with people who live near or have visited the cemetery have revealed stories of hearing sounds like a kitten or a baby crying.  When people went closer to investigate, the sound stopped when they neared Octavia’s grave.  Others claim to have heard a woman crying.  Pictures have been taken with a strange mist appearing near the statue, although the weather was clear.  Some people claim that Octavia’s apparition walks around the cemetery from time to time.
Pic taken that alleges to show a light mist across the statue
Perhaps the most often told, yet untrue, aspect of the legend is that on Halloween and/or the anniversary of Octavia’s passing, her statue rotates 180 degrees, symbolically turning her back on the city that allowed her to be buried alive.  For decades people gathered around the grave on those dates to see what would happen.  On Halloween the year that we had written the article about the legend for the college newspaper, it seemed like half the student body showed up hoping to witness the event.  The version of the story we had heard stated the statue turned at midnight.  As midnight passed and nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the crowd began to dwindle away.  When it got 1:00 am and nothing had happened, the remaining few of us also returned to our dorms.  

I later learned that a group of college students in the 1980s finally admitted to sneaking to the cemetery and turning the statue around themselves.



After I had told the legend to the two college girls, the one who had been interested was only encouraged more.
“Let’s go over there!” The girl who had asked about the haunting said.  “Thank you!”
I walked back to campus smiling, knowing that another generation of students were passing around the legend of Octavia Hatcher, and at least some of them wondered if parts of it might be true.